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GearStorm – Review

GearStorm, released on November 20th, 2019, is an open-world RPG FPS that revolves around building bases, fighting factions and collecting resources. Still being developed by Iron City Games, the game has flaws you’d expect from an unfinished title, but despite its imperfect presentation, GearStorm delivers a surprisingly enjoyable experience. 

It’s important to point out that many of the positive and negative points explored in this review can become invalid in the future, as GearStorm is an early-access title, still in development. Many details might be changed in the course of its evolution. 

The game is intended for both single and multiplayer gameplay, but, sadly, I didn’t have the chance to experience GearStorm with other players, since there wasn’t anyone else available to play and servers were completely empty. That means I’ll only be able to review the game as a single-player experience, which is a tad unfortunate, as I’m sure many of the mechanics observed in this review would shine the most in a multiplayer environment.

I am going to be honest and say that judging by its Steam page and website, GearStorm would be a game I’d be inclined to ignore. The method of advertisement fails to communicate the true quality and aspects of the game. For instance, watching the trailers made me expect a mediocre experience with no depth and outright boring gameplay. The environment shown in the videos and screenshots never implies a diverse map and the videos only really present quick, unidentifiable combat scenes that look more as if they were put there to look interesting in order to hide terrible gameplay. 

In reality, Gearstorm defied my expectations – It has great gameplay misrepresented by bad advertisement. The unclear and badly chosen images and the general presentation remind me of many cheap, lazy games made with free assets and only available on Steam because of its low standards when accepting games, letting basically anyone submit trashy, subpar parody and low effort titles (see Lawnmower Simulator or Horny Fighter). Actually, when you think about it, it’s impressive and somewhat admirable how they managed to capture the game at its absolute worst when trying to promote it. It’s unfortunate, because behind these poorly planned first impressions, lies an amazing experience, with quality content and absolutely no lawnmowers (well, technically, there are “lawnmowers”, since you can “harvest” bushes with a special BuildGun).

GearStorm focuses on many gameplay aspects in order to create a satisfying experience: crafting, harvesting resources, taking quests, exploring, fighting and (possibly the most notable mechanic) building and terraforming the environment. Most of these features need at least some kind of improvement, which is completely understandable, as the game is still in development.

Harvesting is a big part of the game. You can “harvest” basically anything with your BuildGun (a gun used to harvest materials, but that also allows you to project and generate building structures, such as walls, doors, rooftops, etc.), as your surroundings are completely changeable. Most of the harvesting time is spent collecting materials, such as wood, copper, and iron, which are used to create items (armor, weapons, ammo, etc.). It never becomes too boring but also takes long enough to be an important activity. It’s the perfect mix between grinding and practicality.

Terraforming the environment and placing objects allows players to create underground bases and gives enormous flexibility when building. Players have the freedom to build bases however they want. All that needs to be done is to select one of the available structure units (that have to be present in your inventory) and place them where they can stick to something. That way, it’s possible to conceive magnificent constructions and giant, beautiful bases (Alternatively, you can be like me and build something that reminds the viewer of at its best, a public bathroom).

Currently, though well-thought, the building mechanic has a few problems. More often than not, you’ll end up accidentally placing walls inside each other, creating a horrible clipping effect. This could be fixed by adding some kind of “build lock”, which could snap the structure materials directly alongside each other.

Crafting involves using harvested materials and work tables to create items. Most of the complex crafting components need to be achieved by refining primitive ores. Iron and copper, for example, have to be processed in a refinement machine to be usable. Many items are created with the same resources, which means possible craftable items have to be displayed in crafting menus that vary according to the type of working stations. For instance, a wood bench only presents simple items (such as salads, medkits, etc.), while a fabricator enables the creation of chitin armory, large medkits, repair kits, among other complex items.

Combat is, by far, what needs the most improvement. After participating in a few battles, I was able to find a few of the main problems with it. 

Firstly, enemies are able to spot you and start shooting from way too far. The enemy is far enough away that you can barely even notice them and someone is already shooting you. It takes almost as much time to understand that the bullets are coming from a minuscule dot in the horizon. This, combined with a very precise enemy aim, makes it nearly impossible to approach your foes or to have an interesting fight. You’re forced to stay very far from the combatants not to die instantly, especially when nearly no cover is provided in an open environment. This is even worse when fighting with squadmates. Your allies’ health is comically lower than necessary to fight multiple enemies at once, so your AI friends last about 30 seconds in the fight before disgracefully falling like a bag of cement. 

That is the problem with being shot at, but shooting back isn’t great either. Almost no gun feels satisfying to shoot in a way that the game never gives a good idea of the amount the damage you’re doing. Most long-range weapons make minimal noise, so they feel and sound more like pebble shooters than powerful, menacing killing machines. Shotguns are an exception in that they feel great and they sound “crunchy” and heavy, but you don’t get to use them that much, as they require close proximity to the enemy. 

Despite the flaws mentioned, battles can be really dynamic and enemies are diverse enough to provide different approaches to each encounter. While exploring, it’s not uncommon to end up in gunfights against groups of wandering bandits or to set out in a search for minerals and, on the way back home, to get chased by a horde of zombies. In this sense, GearStorm makes any activity much more interesting when putting unexpected and unpredictable events in their course. Setting out on a quest to collect a determined amount of Copper and Iron becomes much more interesting with the possibility of being attacked.

Quests offer various different activities and are plentiful, but are sadly broken. Essentially, they’re great on paper, but often horrible in execution (Hah, just like me! Sorry if I didn’t live up to your expectations, mom and dad). Mainly, poor signalization is what ruins missions the most. I had completed a few missions when, perhaps due to bugs, the quest markers stopped showing up in the minimap. As simple as that. How am I supposed to know where Old Jeb tried to start his settlement?

There are other more specific problems with each mission too. In “Bandits Take a Toll”, the player is supposed to fight some bandits near an allied settlement. The NPC who assigned you this task decides to come and help you kill them. As I have already mentioned, your squad mate’s health is not nearly enough to go against multiple targets, which means the NPC friend dies almost as soon as you start being attacked. The main problem is that you’re supposed to talk to him after killing all of the bandits, but unless you have magical necromancing powers, he’ll just lay there for the rats to feast on and you won’t be able to finish this mission.

Gearstorm’s story is interesting enough to encourage players to explore the areas of the new world, make sense of the NPCs, enemies, mechanics, and environments shown and cooperates with the details that contribute to the lore scattered across the map. Taking place in 2185, the story presents a decaying Earth and collapsing humanity alongside it. The final bump for complete condemnation comes in the form of a genetically engineered bioweapon that turns humans into zombie-like savage creatures. The last few surviving humans find themselves with no other choice other than to seek shelter inside bunkers, walled cities, and fortresses. Planet Earth was expected to be doomed when a final glimpse of hope appeared: one of NASA’s satellites finally discovered a habitable world with its own biomes, fauna, and flora. Small probes containing mental and DNA copies of past human operators are sent to the planet for a final attempt to save humanity, the player being one of those copies. This story is great when serving as a way to explain many aspects of GearStorm. For example, the human copy generators that respawn the player when dying make sense, since you’re not really a person, but rather a disposable copy created based on a DNA blueprint. The context also does, however, make a few mechanics nonsensical, such as the fact that your inventory can’t carry over a certain weight limit, or else you won’t be able to sprint or jump. In which extremely advanced future with technology so developed it can mimic human beings is the agility limited by a weight capacity? In GearStorm’s future, apparently.

The soundtrack compliments the space theme, futuristic story, and setting, but it’s generic and doesn’t do anything innovative or that stands out from most sci-fi music. There is an attempt to complement gameplay by changing the music from a calm and slow song to more euphoric battle rhythms when encountering enemies, but after running away or killing all hostiles, the action music keeps playing and will remain playing even when no danger is present. It gets rather annoying and, when doing a standard peaceful activity, like organizing your chests, it’ll feel as if you were fighting for your life in the last mission to save humanity (I mean, you kinda are, but still).

The graphics are around average too. Lighting is certainly its lowest point, as everything looks quite dark and makes the entire scene look dimly lit, which is especially notable when you see the sunshine, sunrise and night (basically, all the time). Light is possibly what makes a few models with less detail look ugly and textures, unappealing. For an indie game, models are overall great, but unarmored humans look more like the aliens they’re fighting against than any other being: their skin looks as if someone had spread butter on them and the bald heads certainly don’t help to hide it. Wild animal aliens and lifeless objects (such as weapons, walls, vehicles), however, are really well done, the first resembling dinosaur-like creatures and other lifeforms seen on Earth and the latter being very well detailed in every aspect, from textures to geometry. Animation-wise…. it’s awful. Not unbearable, but can certainly be improved. The first-person animations are really stiff and unnatural (as if someone who spent 6 hours straight gaming tried to operate a gun), most apparent when switching weapons, as the hand doesn’t change, but rather stay still as the gun weirdly descends onto it. Not only that, but shooting presents a weird recoil in the weapon that just draws the gun back rather than realistically present the force of blasting a projectile hard enough to make it kill someone. The melee attack also feels weak, resembling more a fist bump than a deadly attack with arm blades. No one is terrified of fist bumps, right? Unless it comes from Hitler or something, that would be scary.

From terraforming and exploring a strange, unknown planet to building and expanding your own base with many different tools and materials at your disposal, GearStorm presents enough content for engaging gameplay with an interesting story that is deepened by details available at every possibility. Overall, it’s a game worth buying, not only because it’s a fun experience, but in order to follow its development and see how well Iron City Games can use the game’s potential for a, hopefully, magnificent and splendid final product.

You can buy the game here on Steam.

Many thanks to Iron City Games for the review code.

One thought on “GearStorm – Review

  1. Thanks for the review from us here at Iron City games. I’m glad you enjoyed it. We’re hard at work addressing the concerns and issues you pointed out. Thanks for doing that. Our main focus right now is improving the gameplay mechanics then the aesthetics. After that we can fix our marketing 🙂

    I will note, that your NPCs that die in combat aren’t lost though. The ability to respawn is available to everyone in GearStorm that can afford it, including them. But yeah, they’ll get a durability boost in the next release.

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